Most Arizona restaurants slow down for the summer. T. Cook’s at the Royal Palms Hotel didn’t slow down, they shut down. Only, they didn’t go on vacation … they got to work. A total design overhaul of the restaurant and bar, a brand new menu, new kitchen, a new executive chef, new staff, new cocktails, hell, even a new beer tap system was installed. (Did you know T. Cook’s never had beer on tap? Crazy, right?)
The new T. Cook’s has been open for less than two weeks and the buzz is seemingly all good. Executive Chef Paul McCabe comes to us from red rock country by way of San Diego. A Sedona-native, Chef McCabe has helped put a number of restaurants on the culinary map – most notably as Exec Chef of L’Auberge Del Mar Resort and Spa and the culinary brains behind their award-winning fine-dining restaurant, Kitchen 1540. He’s chef’d at L’Ermitage Hotel in Beverly Hills, Enchantment Resort in Sedona, and cooked at the James Beard House in New York a buncha freakin’ times.
We pulled Chef McCabe aside for 10 minutes during the opening madness for a quick kibitz. We sat in that side room adjacent to the bar (which has been given a new dedicated name: The Mix Up Bar). You’ll be happy to know that the room still has a leather floor (now new) and that T. Cook’s overall feels the same but different. More vibrant colors have updated the spaces, but everything is still influenced by desert colors and the Mediterranean tone of the resort.
You’re really active on social media. Have you always been into Twitter, Instagram, all of it?
Actually, yes. I understand the value of social media. You can’t specifically measure the ROI, but proof is in the reservations and overall content creation. We’re able to give people a glimpse of things behind the scenes. And, I kinda just like it.
Your predecessor, Lee Hillson, did some innovative things here, but we think he wasn’t given full reign. How have you been able to make so many changes?
We’re lucky enough to have shut down for three months. You can reinvent yourself after a hiatus like that. But while you’re open, it’s tough. So far, there’s been zero pushback on the changes.
Yeah, so there are these fabled long-time T. Cook’s guests who sound critical as hell. Have they been in?
They were some of our first customers. I remember, the doors opened, we we’re all really nervous, and then the first ticket came in: three foie gras and three antelope. (SEE ABOVE FOR PROOF) We all went, “YES!” Antelope’s pretty edgy, and it’s been our top-seller. Also, you know T. Cook’s was all about that bread and pesto at every table. Well now it’s this wonderful Noble Bread and a Crow’s Dairy Goat Butter. Even if someone’s upset and misses the pesto, by the time they’re eating, they’ve forgotten about that. There’s a lot of ways to eat off this menu, so once the food starts coming, the old regulars will feel good about the changes.
All new staff?
All but three or four. For those regulars, it’s good for them to have someone they know here, so it’s not all unfamiliar. But, we spent a lot of time training staff on not being pretentious, reading your table, knowing who your guest is…
You’ve opened a lot of restaurants. What’s the most common kink you keep running into?
Not having enough time to train. There’s a reason Broadway shows offer half-price tickets in the beginning. Restaurants don’t get that luxury.
The curtain goes up and it’s showtime. What’s the overall theme, from the menu to the new design, to the bar?
Progressive, not trendy.
The new menu is called New American with Mediterranean influences. What the hell does that mean?
(laughs) I know, it sounds crazy, but New American meaning there’s more latitude with flavors, but we’re a Spanish-style resort, so we need to stay in that vein with Mediterranean food. Luckily, the Mediterranean is vast, so there’s a lot to pull from. But don’t worry, we’re not going crazy with new flavors by working with things like kimchee or yuzu. You’ll see Cypress Island greens, sepia …. there’s a Spanish octopus … but we use local when we can.
There’s a kale salad on the menu. Kale is so insanely hot right now. Is that “New American?”
I know (shrugs with a smile), believe me, if Puntarella were in season, that would be on there in place of kale. Puntarella is a bitter green grown in the Mediterranean and it’s delicious, but I can’t get it right now. Kale, in my opinion, is too fiburous of a green. But you’re right, people love it so that’s also why it’s on the menu.
And antelope. Are people clamoring for antelope? Why antelope?
Why not? We get it from Broken Arrow Ranch in Texas. It’s a one million acre ranch where these animals are able to run wild. They are left alone practically 100 percent of the time, so the meat is just perfect. I don’t want to get into the gruesome details, but they kill these animals in such a quiet, humane way. There’s no sense of panic. And that makes for better meat. We serve it as a seared loin with braised neck. Everyone that tries it, loves it.
Royal Palms Hotel
5200 E Camelback Rd.
Phoenix, AZ 85018